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Alex DeBrincat’s stellar sophomore season with the Blackhawks

The 21-year-old forward topped 40 goals and is already proving to be one of the game’s top scoring threats.

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Calgary Flames v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Before we begin, let’s recall what an anonymous NHL scout told Scott Powers of The Athletic, regarding that scout’s opinion on what type of 2018-19 season Alex DeBrincat would have:

“I think he’ll always be a 20-25 goal guy, 40-45 point guy. I just don’t think he’s more than that.”

Now let’s check in on DeBrincat’s stats from this past season:

  • 41 goals, second on the team (Patrick Kane had 44) and tied for sixth in the league
  • 35 assists, fourth on the team
  • 76 points, third on the team and 34th overall in the NHL
  • 13 power play goals, tied for 10th in the league
  • Still just 21 years old

Good call, anonymous NHL scout.

In his second season, DeBrincat dispelled any notions of a sophomore slump and emerged as a premier scoring threat on a team with the eighth-most goals in the NHL last season. Concerns about DeBrincat’s size or inability to translate his success from juniors to the NHL have been eviscerated, and the questions now turn skyward to focus on DeBrincat’s ceiling. How much higher can he go? Are 50-goal seasons out of the question? After his first two seasons — he played a full 82 games in each — there’s nothing but optimism.

Much of the talk around DeBrincat this season centered on his reunion with OHL teammate Dylan Strome, who arrived in a late November trade. We discussed Strome on Monday, after he started realizing the potential that made him a No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft.

When Strome came to Chicago, DeBrincat was mired in a slump, with just two goals in the 17 prior games. At that point in the season, DeBrincat had 10 goals and eight assists in 24 games. In the 58 contests after Strome was acquired, DeBrincat scored 31 more goals and tallied 27 more assists. DeBrincat went from averaging 0.75 points per game to an even point-per-game average. It certainly appeared adding Strome to the lineup was a significant boost for DeBrincat.

The offensive numbers were impressive together, but DeBrincat didn’t necessarily need Strome to flourish offensively. In fact, DeBrincat had better possession numbers without Strome than Strome had without DeBrincat, as indicated by the numbers below, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, with all numbers tallied at even-strength play:

The possession numbers aren’t quite as important for highly-skilled players like DeBrincat and Strome, who don’t require much time in the offensive zone to produce. Although DeBrincat fared better without Strome in terms of possession, that rate of 4.74 goals scored per 60 minutes stands out as testament that the former Erie teammates are better together than they are apart.

Only Kane and DeBrincat had a higher rate at 4.86, and Strome was often the center when those two wingers were paired together on opposite sides. Other high-scoring duos on the Blackhawks this season included: Strome/Kane at 4.37, Toews/Kane at 3.59, Toews/DeBrincat at 3.55 and Toews/Saad at 2.66.

But it should be noted again that DeBrincat’s success was not predicated on being paired up with Strome, and that bodes well for DeBrincat’s future production. DeBrincat should see plenty of time with Strome into the next decade, as both players should be permanent fixtures in Chicago’s top six. Pairing DeBrincat with any other top-six forward should produce similar results, though, as DeBrincat has proved he’s an elite-level scorer in the NHL.